Memories of gas-powered lampposts in Leigh

Swinging on the bar of a gas lamppost without a rope

Local historian Alf Ridyard takes a look at the memories associated with the old gas lamps in his weekly column, Tash Tales...

Pictures of lighted gas lamps usually evoke memories in our olderer readers of dimly lit streets with a halo-like glow emitting from the little gas mantle.

The gas mantle’s flickering behind the glass also suggests images of foggy streets and of Jack the Ripper with his cloak swirling in the mist, disappearing round a dark alley.

Once again the time machine takes us back to our childhood days, when the humble gas lamp was more than an aid to help people get home during the long dark winter nights.

During the summer months when it was made redundant from its main purpose, it became the wickets for our games of street cricket, the lampposts adjoining down the street equidistant away became the boundary.

This is, of course, was is in the halcyon days of very little traffic in the streets of terrace houses with an odd car passing every half hour or so.

These games were played with the intensity of any Test match between England and the Aussies, and would in fact last for hours.

The rules were as follows, no LBW’s, as none of us knew the interpretation of the law, a catch by one hand if the ball came off a wall without hitting the floor was out, a hit over some one’s yard was six and out, plus a batsman retired having scored fifty.

Everyone got to bowl so the better bowlers did not skittle the opposition, all these rules were determined at the beginning of the season and were adhered to throughout the summer.

The only break would be Wimbledon fortnight when a rope would be attached to the lamppost and stretched across the street to a convenient drainpipe. Mother’s donkey stone came in handy for chalking the court, as we seldom had chalk.

Wimbledon over and the rope would also be used to tie round the bar protruding just under the glass shade of the lamppost - this bar being used in pre-automatically ignited lamps for the ladder of the lamplighter/mantle changer.

The rope once tied to the bar then became our swing. And lacking a rope did not deter us as we would swing from the ladder bar itself - no need for fancy gyms for us as climbing, skipping and jumping were all catered for.

The lamppost was put to other uses as well as the finishing line for running or roller-skating races, these again were as intense as any Olympic Games.

It was also the den for hide and seek and kick out can, and the lampposts always formed the boundaries of these games, i.e. four lamps in any direction from “the den”. It was always the meeting point for rule making, picture visits, further afield expeditions.

Dark nights did not detract from its importance – it became the, albeit dim, floodlight for our football games.

The lamppost being used as one of the goal posts, a coat placed eight paces away for the other. Many a heated discussion took place over shots passing over or near the coat as to whether it was a goal, missed or hit the post. Under the lamp was the place for jacks and dobbers or swap nights for your ‘twicer’ football cards obtained from bubble gum or our comics, such as Beano, Dandy, Tiger, Rover, Topper or Eagle, just to name a few of the more popular ones.

Who can remember Roy Race, Alf Tupper, Dan Dare, Lord Snooty, Beryl the Peril, Union Jack Jackson? The list of characters is endless. Finances determined the number of comics each lad would be able to have, so our organisational skills came into play. We determined who bought which and then after devouring every word and picture would swap with a mate, who had done the same with his comics which were different from yours.

It was also our place for debate and encouraged many things including haggling over the rarer football card pictures, debate being on the quality of certain football, rugby teams and players.

In general, as a group of youngsters, we were all Bolton Wanderers or Leigh supporters.

There were also discussions as to which cinema we would go to on Saturday evening as we had a choice of two. This was the night our parents went to the local pub, whilst we were all at the cinema, we were armed with sixpence for a “tanner mix” of chips and a spoonful of peas for our exit from the cinema.

The lamppost then became our dining room until 10pm when our parents collected us on their way home.

As we all lived within shouting distance of each other, communications between parents made sure one family was on hand to take the other’s children, should others be out longer.

It really was a community in those days, bearing in mind pubs finished serving at 10.30pm back then.

A sad reflection of today’s troubled and uncertain times on any town’s streets is that back then it would be seen as neglecting children leaving them to their own devices, plus the fact that younger-end teenagers would be hard pressed to look up from their phones let alone swing from a lamppost or play any of the afore mentioned games.

The old saying “We had nowt but wanted for nowt”, takes us back to an innocent growing up time.

For me the light from a gas lamp, however dim, gives something of a warm feeling as opposed to the harsh light of today’s street lights, I leave you with the thought, it’s my down at kick out can.

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